A Nigerian refugee kisses her child at a transit camp in Geidam, Yobe, Nigeria | Photo: EPA/STR
A Nigerian refugee kisses her child at a transit camp in Geidam, Yobe, Nigeria | Photo: EPA/STR

A humanitarian corridor organized by Caritas, UNHCR, and the Italian government was suspended at the last minute by the Italian government. The corridor would have brought refugees to Italy from Niger.

The humanitarian corridor was supposed to bring 67 refugees from Niger to Italy - but the Italian government suspended the resettlement. Only six Syrian refugees arrived in Rome, alongside workers from the Italian branch of Caritas and UNHCR. 

Although there was no explicit announcement, the reason for the annulment seems to have been linked to healthcare procedures for the containment of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. 

Government decision was precautionary

"The cancellation of the arrival depends neither on us nor on the Italian section of Caritas. The government informed us that it had made this decision as a precaution," Barbara Molinari from the Italian branch of UNHCR told the Italian website Redattore Sociale. "We hope that a new date can be set as soon as possible to enable the refugees, already suffering from having to flee and waiting for such a long time in a place of transit, to arrive in Italy."

Oliviero Forti, head of the immigration section of the Italian branch of Caritas, said after he returned from Niger that he had been notified of the decision only the night prior to the departure, "at the last minute, when the people were ready to leave." 

He added that it was "probably the result of the unexpected evolution of the coronavirus issue in Italy. I believe that the decision was made to suspend the corridor in order to avoid creating alarmism. In Niger there are no cases of COVID-19. Moreover, the people slated to leave had gone through all the pre-departure medical checks and they do not have any sort of health problem linked to this type of virus." 

Italy currently has the largest number of coronavirus cases in Europe: 528, according to news agency dpa (as off Thursday afternoon). So far, 14 people have died in Italy because of the virus. 

'Corridor was suspended but we will return' 

"The government ensured us that the corridor had simply been suspended and that as soon as the emergency passes we will return there to implement the project," Forti stressed. "We also managed to bring one family to Italy. The mother urgently needs medical treatment." 

The six refugees that arrived despite the suspension of the humanitarian corridor are all part of a family that fled Deraa in southwestern Syria: mother, father, and four children. Media outlets reported that, during their eight-year journey, the family passed through Saudi Arabia and Egypt and arrived in Niger. The last two years had been particularly difficult for them, as the mother has a tumor in an advanced stage. She will now undergo treatment in Italy. The family will be hosted in the Manfredonia diocese. 

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